Wigan chalked up a well-earned first win of 2012 to close the gap to their local rivals and stay in touch at the bottom of the table. Gary Caldwell rose to head home Jean Beausejour’s corner and give his side the lead towards the end of a first half they largely controlled. Though Mark Davies pulled the Trotters level with a 67th minute screamer, Latics never lost heart and were back in front through James McArthur less than ten minutes later. The visitors saw through a tense final fifteen minutes and have Ali Al Habsi to thank for a wonderful fingertip save from Ryo Miyaichi’s strike with mere minutes to play.
Latics began nervously in the face of some lively Bolton interplay, and would be forced into some anxious fumbled clearances at the back. The hosts managed three early shots on target, but none of them even got through to Al Habsi as they were intercepted in the first instance by charging defenders. Wigan were always right in there, however, and almost had a breakthrough on 13 minutes through Victor Moses, who cut into the penalty area and sliced his shot wide of Bogdan’s right hand post. Beausejour, too, found success in running at the defence, and flashed a couple of balls across the face of goal but sadly there were no men present to finish the job and put Latics ahead.
As the half progressed, Wigan saw more and more of the ball and won a good proportion of 50:50 challenges as the midfield began to impose themselves on the game. This dominance provided Di Santo with two chances, one a powerful strike that flew not far over the bar, and a second that had the keeper diving low to repel his shot destined for the bottom corner. Caldwell’s goal was the pinnacle of Latics’ endeavours, a well-placed header past Adam Bogdan from just outside the six-yard area to convert Beausejour’s corner kick.
The Wigan dominance continued into the second half, and may well have seen the visitors double their lead. Emmerson Boyce just could not control his toe-poke goalwards when presented with a chance to shoot 11 yards out, the numerous advancing defenders causing sufficient doubt for the Barbadian to mis-hit his snap-shot. A second foray into the Bolton area saw Jordi Gomez fall over rather unconvincingly, but Latics were starting to make a real impact in the final third – not something we’ve been able to claim very often of late.
James McArthur almost doubled Wigan’s lead on from 8 yards on 60 minutes but could not steer the ball past Adam Bogdan. Had his strike been a yard to either side of the Hungarian, McArthur would surely have had his second of the campaign, and from a Latics point of view, it wouldn’t have been undeserved.
The Wanderers comeback was, in some senses, predictable; to say Wigan have struggled to keep hold of a lead in the past month or two is something of an understatement. The way the game was going, however, nobody could have predicted the manner in which the Bolton equaliser came. In what must have been their second shot of the half, Mark Davies pulled out a corking strike to beat Al Habsi at his right hand post and, against the run of play, the Trotters had themselves a handy Route #1 goal. But, with more than twenty minutes to play, the game was far from over. In fact, one could say it had only just started, but it hadn’t, so I won’t.
Wigan’s juggernaut, such as it was, had slowed down to a near-crawl since Bolton’s goal, and Hugo Rodallega was drafted into play alongside Moses and Di Santo up front. Almost immediately, Wigan were pressuring the hosts, Victor Moses pulling out yet another blistering run down the left hand side. As he made his way into the penalty area, you felt certain the correct option was to pull the ball back for the uncontested Rodallega who would have an easy chance to snaffle his third of the season. Moses chose to shoot, and though the ball rebounded back off Bogdan, James McArthur was ready and waiting to efficiently place the ball into an open goal. Rodallega seemed a bit miffed, but his side were back in front with less than fifteen minutes remaining.
Just like Everton last week, Bolton threw everything into their attacks, breaking with incredible speed and looking to run the ball into Wigan territory at every opportunity. Latics were doing a good job of keeping them out, however, and although their area saw a fair few nervy half-clearances, the defence went about their business without major incident. At the other end, Victor Moses and Hugo Rodallega were manufacturing some breakaways of their own and were always threatening, but defence was now the main concern.
The game’s final turning point came in the 90th minute as Ryo Miyaichi made yet another marauding run into Wigan’s area to get his shot away. Though Al Habsi had been largely untested up to this stage, he produced a fantastic save to tip the ball wide and deny the Japanese wingman his first goal for the Wanderers. The three subsequent minutes of stoppage time, which transpired to be more than four thanks to another Martinez substitution and some time wasting by Rodallega by the right hand corner flag, were successfully negotiated when the ball trickled into Al Habsi’s relieved arms.
For the first time in a long while, Wigan were deserving of a win. The shots-to-goals rate (10-2) was an awful lot healthier than of late, and they did much to warrant this, putting the Bolton backline under considerable pressure at certain points in the game. Latics controlled possession for a solid 25 minutes or so, but the most important statistic during this time was that all-important goal. Granted, it came through a defender, but when down at the bottom you can’t be fussy about these things. Speaking of the defence, it looked a little more balanced with Alcaraz back in charge and Caldwell in good form at centre back. Though they weren’t tested too much, they did what they had to do and, with a bit of help from Al Habsi, held on for those oh-so-vital three points.
Make no mistake, the situation still ain’t so great, but I won’t put a downer on things this evening because Wigan wins have been such a rare commodity this season. On the horizon is a run of games that could decide whether or not we have the fight to survive (mostly because April could easily be a fallow month), so the next month is a perfect opportunity to stake a claim for Premier League football beyond May, but let’s enjoy this win while we can. See you next week for Villa.
Oh, and what of Diame, the man who I tipped for success today? Well, we forgot all about him, didn’t we? Maybe he shall return to the first team next week.